Projected Duration of the Sea-Ice-Free Season in the Future Alaskan Arctic

Monday, 15 December 2014
Muyin Wang, University of Washington Seattle Campus, Seattle, WA, United States and James E Overland, Pacific Marine Environmental Laboratory, Seattle, WA, United States
The change in the Arctic climate is fast and broad. Among many changes that have been observed, the reduction of sea ice coverage has been one of the most significant factors. Continued reduction in sea ice cover will probably result in longer open water duration, which is important for the shipping industry, marine mammals as well as other component of the local ecosystem. In this study we are to assess future sea ice conditions, particularly the length of open water duration in the Alaskan Arctic over the next few decades using the latest coupled climate models (CMIP5). The Alaskan Arctic, including the Chukchi and the Beaufort Sea, has been a major region of summer sea ice retreat since 2007. Based on the mean of 12 climate models, for the region north of the Bering Strait (70° N), future open-water duration may extend from a current 3-4 months to around five months by 2050. It is about one month shorter along the same latitude over the Beaufort Sea. The difference in the length of ice-free season between the north and the south will remain, but will be smaller in the 21st century compared with current condition. Open-water duration in the Alaskan Arctic expands quickly in these models over the next decades, in contrast to model under-predictions of sea ice loss for the summer minimum over the Arctic wide domain. Uncertainty is generally ±one month estimated from the range of model results. Continued increases in open-water duration over the next two decades will impact regional economic access and potentially alter ecosystems, yet we need to keep in mind that from December through May most of the northern Alaskan Arctic will remain sea ice covered into the second half of the century.